Magazine Student Voice

Shoot Your Shot

My experiences as a transfer student

By Zachary Cantrell

Spring 2024

As a senior in high school in 2020, I dreamed of attending Grinnell College in Iowa. When I first visited the campus, I immediately knew it was the right place for me. As a self-driven student, I was drawn to the flexibility and independence of the open curriculum with no core course requirements. I was also excited by the authenticity and warmth of the students I met, the availability of extensive funding for study abroad programs, and the numerous opportunities for student involvement and innovation on campus. I poured hours into perfecting my application—I was rejected. I felt humbled and saddened.

Fortunately, I was admitted to Drake University in Des Moines. I grew up just down the road from Drake and had visited the campus dozens of times for different events during high school. So, I was already comfortable with the university, and I enjoyed my time at Drake. I participated in several clubs and served on the Community Action Board, but I didn’t have as many opportunities for activism and ways to work for social justice as I wanted.

Meanwhile, I was excited to hear about initiatives at Grinnell, such as a student-led effort to install under-desk sustainable treadmills. (Students walk on the treadmills while studying, which generates electricity that powers lamps on the desks.) Although I liked Drake, I still wanted to attend Grinnell. So, halfway through my sophomore year, I reached out to my advisor, friends, and parents about the idea of transferring. Despite Grinnell’s intimidatingly low 12.1 percent transfer acceptance rate (compared to a 61 percent rate nationwide), they all told me the same thing, “Shoot your shot.”

The process was similar to the first time I applied. I filled out the Common Application, submitted my transcripts from high school and Drake, completed interviews with Grinnell, and, for me, the most difficult task, wrote a five hundred–word personal essay that included my reasons for wanting to transfer. Weeks later, I received an email with the subject line “status updated.” I felt nervous—what if my dream college had rejected me again? I opened the note and was greeted by digital confetti poppers and a bolded message: “Congratulations!”

Although I eagerly plunged into the Grinnell experience, transferring came with some challenges. Grinnell only accepted sixty-two transfer credits, so I’ve had to carefully plan my courses to graduate on time, making registering for courses each semester nerve-wracking. I have also experienced elements of impostor syndrome and have sometimes felt unqualified to be at Grinnell. Academically, I’ve had to adjust to a significantly heavier reading load.

Because I transferred as a junior, I worried that I would have trouble making friends, but Grinnell is a warm and welcoming community. More than anything else, that’s made me feel that I belong here.

As a second semester senior, I know I made the right choice. I’ve met wonderful people at Grinnell and gained opportunities such as serving on the campus board for the National Alliance on Mental Illness and working with the Grinnell Education Partnership on community outreach projects. To anyone who is thinking of transferring, I’d say, “Don’t be afraid. Shoot your shot!”

Photo: As a transfer student, Zachary Cantrell (second from left) has experienced a warm and welcoming environment at Grinnell College.


  • Zachary Cantrell

    Zachary Cantrell is a senior majoring in English at Grinnell College.